Watching While Black
Centering the Television of Black Audiences
Publication Year: 2013
Television scholarship has substantially ignored programming aimed at Black audiences despite a few sweeping histories and critiques. In this volume, the first of its kind, contributors examine the televisual diversity, complexity, and cultural imperatives manifest in programming directed at a Black and marginalized audience.
Watching While Black considers its subject from an entirely new angle in an attempt to understand the lives, motivations, distinctions, kindred lines, and individuality of various Black groups and suggest what television might be like if such diversity permeated beyond specialized enclaves. It looks at the macro structures of ownership, producing, casting, and advertising that all inform production, and then delves into television programming crafted to appeal to black audiences—historic and contemporary, domestic and worldwide.
Chapters rethink such historically significant programs as Roots and Black Journal, such seemingly innocuous programs as Fat Albert and bro’Town, and such contemporary and culturally complicated programs as Noah’s Arc, Treme, and The Boondocks. The book makes a case for the centrality of these programs while always recognizing the racial dynamics that continue to shape Black representation on the small screen. Painting a decidedly introspective portrait across forty years of Black television, Watching While Black sheds much-needed light on under-examined demographics, broadens common audience considerations, and gives deference to the the preferences of audiences and producers of Black-targeted programming.
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Watching While Black: Centering the Television of Black Audiences
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Watching while black : centering the television of black audiences / edited by ISBN 978-0-8135-5387-0 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-8135-5386-31. African Americans on television. 2. African American television viewers.3. Television broadcasting—Social aspects—United States. I. Smith-Shomade, Beretta E.,A British Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the British Library....
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The space between when you conceive a project and its fruition can sometimesI thank the two anonymous readers for their support and critical insights intothe workings of the articles and the book as a whole. Your critiques have madethe work much stronger. I appreciate my wonderful and patient press editors aswell, Leslie Mitchner and Lisa Boyajian, who persevered even when I made their...
Introduction: I See Black People
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This project has been engaging my thoughts for nearly a decade. I was forced toactually address it while sitting in our temporary home in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, watch-ing world satellite TV with virtually no Blacks on it. In Nigeria, I becameacquainted with Paris-based Fashion TV, U.S.-based Style Network, and theAustralian production McLeod’s Daughters. Outside of M-Net’s Africa Magic, a...
Part I: Producing Blackness
1 The Importance of Roots
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In January 1977, I, along with over ninety million other Americans, watched atleast one episode of the television miniseries Roots: The Saga of an AmericanFamily. Over the eight days of the broadcast, the audience grew, and debatesregarding its impact filled media outlets. In the weeks and months after the showaired, the impact was measurable as many families sought out genealogists to...
2 Two Different Worlds: Television as a Producer's Medium
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Although discourses regarding 1980s representations of Blackness on televisionheavily focus on The Cosby Show, its NBC spin-off series, A Different World, depict-ing student life at a historically Black college, was equally groundbreaking anddeserving of critical attention. Looking to transfer the appeal and audience share ofThe Cosby Show to A Different World, the spin-off show’s first season centered on the...
3 A Black Cast Doesn't Make a Black Show: City of Angels and the Plausible Deniability of Color-blindness
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In a recent debate over the problematic characterization of Bonnie Bennett, theonly Black female recurring character on the CW network series The VampireDiaries (CW 2009), my challenger insisted that with all of the qualifiers I insistedshe have, “maybe this is another hidden reason there are no minorities on televi-sion: everything becomes an issue and you just can’t win.” Indeed, the main qual-...
4 Blacks in the Future: Braving the Frontier of the Web Series
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Television’s synergy with the Web initially seemed inconceivable to networkexecutives. With the rise of Internet use, newspaper and magazine articlesannounced the impending death of television. While that was clearly hyperbole,network executives, though often anonymously, expressed their fears that Webcontent would siphon off viewership and thus advertising dollars generated by...
Part II: Blackness on Demand
5 "Regular Television Put to Shame by Negro Production": Picturing a Black World on Black Journal
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In the first episode of Black Journal, before the opening credits, comedian GodfreyCambridge appears dressed in overalls and a painter’s cap with a paint roller inhand and methodically paints the television frame. To the viewer, it appears thathis or her television is being painted black from the inside—a potent visual sym-bol from the first national Black public affairs program. Initially, though, the sym-...
6 "HEY, HEY, HEY!" Bill Cosby's Fat Albert as Psychodynamic Postmodern Play
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Although the cartoon series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (CBS, 1972–1984) aver-aged only nine new episodes a year during its twelve-year run (compared to amore standard production cycle of twenty-five to sixty new episodes a year forother cartoons), the show remained a highly popular option for young viewerson late Saturday mornings. By the time of the series’ network premiere in 1972,...
7 Gimme a Break! and the Limits of the Modern Mammy
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Picture this: a comedy about an overweight Black woman who lives with and takes care of a white family. Joking all the way, she cooks, cleans, helps the fatherof the family, and comforts the children. Then at one point, we see the father hold-ing his gun and pointing toward the door. The Black woman enters and jumps upand down, screaming, “Massa! Massa! Massa! Please don’t shoot!” It is easy to...
8 Down in the Treme … Buck Jumping and Having Fun?: The Impact of Depictions of Post-Katrina New Orleans on Viewers' Perceptions of the City
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Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, liferemained not normal still for many residents of the city. And while mainstreamnews organizations remembered the fifth anniversary of the hurricane with exten-sive coverage, it was the work of filmmaker Spike Lee and television program creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer that perhaps created the greatest ...
Part III: New Jack Black
9 Keepin' It Reality Television
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On November 4, 2008, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared on The EllenDeGeneres Show via satellite. One of the more memorable moments of the inter-view came when Cooper expressed shock that DeGeneres was unfamiliar withthe hit Bravo television show The Real Housewives of Atlanta. “You mean you don’tknow about NeNe?” he demanded incredulously, referring to cast member NeNe...
10 Prioritized: The Hip Hop (Re)Construction of Black Womanhood in Girlfriends and The Game
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Why is it important that a Black woman created, wrote for, and co-produced1two highly-regarded television situation comedies that engaged a variety of Blackwomen’s health issues while at the same time these issues were being reduced,simplified, or altogether ignored in mainstream American hip hop? Mara BrockAkil tacitly responded to this question when asked why four episodes of the ...
11 Nigger, Coon, Boy, Punk, Homo, Faggot, Black Man: Reconsidering Established Interpretations of Masculinity, Race, and Sexuality Through Noah's Arc
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At best, our knowledge about the lives and experiences of Black gay men is lim-ited to a series of stereotypes, snap judgments, and ridicule. In terms of televisionmedia product, this aforementioned knowledge has been packaged mostlywithin the framework of comedy: a red-leather-clad Eddie Murphy talking aboutthe most effective ways to shield his ass from the gay male gaze in the 1983 HBO...
12 Graphic Blackness/Anime Noir: Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks and the Adult Swim
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Aaron McGruder’s “The Return of the King” (2006) is one of many of the artist’scontroversial episodes, yet it stands out because of the criticism it receivedamong mainstream media outlets and civil rights leaders.1 It was the ninthepisode to air from his series The Boondocks, which is an anime show that airs onthe Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim cable channel. McGruder presents the fol-...
Part IV: Worldwide Blackness
13 Resistance Televised: The TV da Gente Television Network and Brazilian Racial Politics
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As activists and political leaders in Brazil call for increasing rights, recognition,and redress to address the multiple forms of marginalization that Afro-Brazilianshave endured, media has become an increasingly important sphere throughwhich different constituencies mobilize to advance a project of racial equality.1Among these groups enlisting available media resources was a group composed...
14 South African Soapies: A "Rainbow Nation" Realized?
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In the United States, daytime soap operas are often critiqued as escapist fantasieswith narratives that provide leisure and pleasure for middle-class and stay-at-home mothers. The storylines typically involve forbidden sexual liaisons andbusiness relationships, with physical and psychological behaviors that center onpowerful families. One family unit usually represents “old money” while the...
15 Minority Television Trade as Cultural Journey: The Case of New Zealand's bro'Town
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Four animated, brown-skinned youth are lounging on a porch step in Auckland,New Zealand, when a fierce-looking social worker and police constable approachand insist on knowing where the father of two of the boys is. As the constableraises his nightstick, one of the boys fumbles in heavily accented M¯aori English,“He went to the pub four days ago and hasn’t been back.” The authorities quickly...
Notes on Contributors
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013